Swearing-In Ceremony For Justice John W. Fitzgerald

JANUARY 7, 1974

CHIEF JUSTICE THOMAS M. KAVANAGH: We would like to presently recognize Dean and former Justice BRENNAN.

 DEAN BRENNAN: Mr. Chief Justice, Justices of the Supreme Court, may it please the Court. My name is THOMAS E. BRENNAN. I am a member in good standing of the State Bar of Michigan. My number is P11172. It is my pleasant assignment this afternoon to present to this Court its newest Justice who is, I am informed, to be the 88th Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, the Honorable JOHN W. FITZGERALD. The first thing I would like to tell the Justices about their new colleague is that he is a family man. Lorabeth is here, the Judge’s dear and charming wife, and also the three FITZGERALD sons, Frank, Eric, and Adam. I’m going to let the Justice himself introduce them to you at a little later time but I couldn’t help but think of these three young men, wondering what careers they might have in mind for the future, especially with their father now a Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, their grandfather a Governor of Michigan, their great-grandfather a member of the Legislature. These three young men are heirs to a long and illustrious tradition of public service in this state. It is a tradition, I am sure, that their father well knew and reverenced 35 or 40 years ago when, like, these boys, he watched his father assume the mantle of civil authority. In the years since then, JOHN W. FITZGERALD has prepared himself for the task he assumes here this afternoon. He graduated from Grand Ledge High School in 1942, served in the United States Army Infantry during World War II and returned in those halcyon, hopeful postwar days to earn his degree from Michigan State University in 1947, and then as the new Justice often smiling concedes, there came a period of soul searching which lead ultimately to law school and graduation from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1954. Thereafter, Justice FITZGERALD served as legal counsel to the Michigan State Senate, he practiced law in his home town of Grand Ledge, and was three times elected as a State Senator, serving the people of the State of Michigan in that capacity from 1958 to 1964.

When the Court of Appeals was organized under the new Constitution, Justice FITZGERALD was among its charter members and he has been the Chief Judge Pro Tem of that Court since its inception. Now I have put you in mind of these few biographical facts, Mr. Chief Justice and members of the Court, because I would have you appreciated that your new colleague brings a wealth of practical experience in the affairs of state to the important and sensitive position he now assumes, but there is another side to the man I would have you know as well. For one year just past, Justice FITZGERALD has been teaching a course in the law of property to freshman law students. At the conclusion of the fall semester just last week, the students were asked to give an evaluation of their courses and of their instructors. The form was brief and simple, but quite to the point.

Under the protection of anonymity, the students were asked to grade on a scale of 1 to 10 the instructor’s preparation for class, willingness to answer questions, ability to communicate, understanding of his subject matter, and the manner of his presentation, and Justice FITZGERALD was rated tops in every category. His composite score was an almost unbelievable 9.71. Now, if the Court please, I submit that the qualities which make a man an outstanding teacher are the same qualities which enable him to be a great jurist–preparation, scholarship, patience, open-mindedness, clarity of expression, capacity for dialogue, dedication. Justice FITZGERALD has these qualities in abundance. He has displayed them for almost a decade on the Court of Appeals and he will bring to this Supreme Court a great respect for the law as a science, as a body of knowledge which needs to be learned, and preserved, and improved, and applied to the affairs of men. Personally Justice FITZGERALD is a gentle man, he is civilized, cultured, urbane, sensitive, thoughtful. Most of you know him well. You have worked with him in other places and at other times. As Justice GILES KAVANAGH has so often observed, seven members of this Court are perhaps involuntary seatmates for a period of time, but whether by choice or otherwise, you all play a role for better or for worse in each other’s lives. JOHN W. FITZGERALD will be easy to live with. He will make a real and significant contribution to the life and to the work of this tribunal. I wish him well and, if the Court please, I now commend him to you.

CHIEF JUSTICE THOMAS M. KAVANAGH: Would you raise your right hand please and repeat after me. I do solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Michigan and to perform my duties as a Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court to the best of my ability, so help me God.

 JUSTICE-ELECT JOHN W. FITZGERALD : I do solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Michigan and to perform my duties as a Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court to the best of my ability, so help me God.

My remarks today are probably going to be briefer than the opinions I write in the future. There is an old saying about judicial humor: “Judicial humor is neither.” So, I am going to suppress my instincts as much as possible. There are a few introductions I would like to make and just a few brief remarks.

First of all, I would like to introduce some of the people who are here with us today. First, the person who, I can honestly say, were it not for her I wouldn’t be here today and there is more to that than just the common remark that one often makes along this line. I would not have gone back to law school after the first year had it not been for the person I am going to introduce and, naturally, that would have precluded my taking the position here on the Bench. Not only was it keeping me in law school with advice and support, and all the other things over the years, but she was, I think, the key factor in accepting this position. When I got an affirmative overture, I am sure that was the thing that tipped my decision and puts me here today. It spans a period of 20 years and better–my wife, Lorabeth.

And, of course, generally the product of marriage is offspring and I have three of them here today that I am very, very proud of, and if they would stand as I call their names. None of them except one expresses a great desire in being a lawyer. The others don’t profess an interest, but I think as time goes on, perhaps it will grow. So, my three sons–Frank, and Eric, and Adam.

I don’t have a great deal of immediate family and I inherited, or acquired I should say, family when I married which has always been a great pleasure to me. The next few people I am going to introduce, if they would just stand and as the old saying goes, if you will hold your applause, we will let them stand up as a group. First of all, my closest male relatives–my cousin John Reed and his wife, my cousin Robert Burnett and his wife, and my acquired relatives, my wife’s sister and my brother-in-law Joe Spiteri of Hillsdale, and Dr. and Mrs. Glenn Moore of Flint.

There is one other group that I certainly want to recognize being here what with the vicissitudes of the weather and sitting on the Bench. I certainly appreciate my colleagues from the Court of Appeals being here today. Some of them are at a seminar and others are on the Bench today, and I am delighted that as many of them as could be are here with me today. I am also flattered to have present the President of the State Bar of Michigan, Carl Smith, Jr. Carl, if you would stand.
Now, I want to get down to what also constitutes family to me, a group of people who, once again, have made a big difference in my being where I am today; and I can honestly say without their help I might not be here. First of all, my secretary of many years, going back to the Senate, Marianne Jones, and I should say still my secretary here on the Supreme Court.

There is also a group of young men to whom I think I honestly owe more than they claim they owe to me: my law clerks. And, at the risk of duplicating that overly sentimental scene at the end of the Oliver Wendell Holmes movie, if you will recall, where, I think, he was 90 or something like that, and had all of his law clerks there, ranging in age from about 70 on down to about 22–there is a group of young men here today that I wish would identify themselves. Some of them are in the back and some of them are in the audience here. Those that are in the back, if they would come in as I call their names. Incidentally, they all come from various law schools, too, which demonstrates my tastes in varying the type of advisor that I have. Now first of all, my very first law clerk, who is now the Director of Research for the Court of Appeals, and that is Otto Stockmeyer. Otto, there you are, from the University of Michigan. My second law clerk, now a practicing attorney in Grand Ledge with his brother in the firm of Smith & Smith, from the University of Chicago, Terry Smith. My third law clerk is not here today but he is laboring in the vineyard–he is Director of Research for the California Supreme Court, so he is where it is warm and we are where it is cold and I wouldn’t blame him for being out there, Ken Jesmore from Wayne State, who couldn’t be with us today. My next law clerk, from the University of Detroit, practicing business and dabbling in law, Bob Dickman from Detroit. My next law clerk, who is the Deputy City Attorney for the City of Kalamazoo, from Wayne State University, Don Schmidt. My next law clerk and it sounds as if I couldn’t keep anybody for very long, but the truth of the matter is I was there for nine years, you know. My next law clerk, who is still presently with the Court of Appeals in the Research Division, from the University of Toledo, Tom Straatsma. And last, but not least, my good right arm, who has been with me in the Court of Appeals and who is, I trust, going to be with me a good long time here in the Supreme Court, from Duquesne University, Ernie Phillips. As I said before, gentlemen, I owe more to you than you do to me.

I am very pleased to see members of the faculty from Cooley Law School here today. The Cooley Law School has become a real facet of my life in the past year, and a number of my students are here—and I want you to know the sacrifice these students are making—today begins finals, and they have the final tonight. I do appreciate your coming.
To my new colleagues on the Supreme Court, Mr. Chief Justice and Associate Justices, I am delighted to be with you and I am looking forward to a long and productive association with all of you. I am going to miss my old associations and I am looking forward to the new ones, and to all of you who have come here today, I want to say “thank you for coming.” Thank all of you for the ways in which you have touched my life. Many of you, in thinking back, will recall influences on me–brief conversations or suggestions–which have touched my life and led me to the position I accept today. I do appreciate what you all have done for me, and I thank you for coming.
Thank you.

 CHIEF JUSTICE THOMAS M. KAVANAGH: It is now my privilege and honor to present the colleagues and associates of former Judge FITZGERALD on the Court of Appeals and I present them at this time. The Honorable Judge TIMOTHY QUINN. Would you stand, please. If you will withhold your applause until I have completed the presentations, we will give them their proper respect at that time. Judge ROBERT BURNS of Grand Rapids, Judge BOB DANHOF of Grand Rapids, Judge JERRY BRONSON of Oakland County, Judge GLENN ALLEN of Kalamazoo, former Justice MIKE O’HARA of Menominee, and Judge Mike Carland of Shiawassee.

It is now my very great pleasure and honor on behalf of the Court and the people of Michigan to welcome Justice FITZGERALD to this Court. Justice FITZGERALD not only joins his former colleagues of the Court of Appeals, Justice CHARLES L. LEVIN and Justice THOMAS G. KAVANAGH, but other Justices who have known him over the years as they, and Judge FITZGERALD, served the people of this state in the legislative and executive branches of government. He has served with distinction on the Court of Appeals and brings to this Court good judgment and experience which will add to the capacity of the Court to meet its ever increasing load. My personal warm welcome to you, Justice FITZGERALD, and to your family and many friends who are here today.

If I may be permitted a further personal note. I have had the privilege as a member of this Bench to participate in ceremonies such as this one on eleven occasions since 1958 as new Justices joined the Court. I know I speak for the Court when I say that each occasion has held, and will continue to hold, extraordinary significance. These moment are special for all of us and provide a time not only to pay honor to the judicial institution itself, but to review what we believe we, as members of the Court, have accomplished. It is a time also to make a public commitment to future service to the people of Michigan. Last year, on January 2, as Justice COLEMAN and Justice LEVIN took their places on this Bench, it was noted that they could expect to spend a considerable portion of their time and energy in meeting the Supreme Court’s mandate, under the state Constitution, of superintending administration of all courts of the state. I believe Justice COLEMAN and Justice LEVIN, and all other members of the Court, have found this to be so.

While public attention focuses on some of the opinions filed by this Court, it must be pointed out that of major importance to the citizens of Michigan is how we fulfill our administrative responsibility to the entire court system. This has been our commitment for more than two years. This will continue to be our commitment while at the same time the Court continues to fulfill its fundamental duty as the final arbitrator in Michigan. Neither in opinion writing nor administration are we likely to please everyone, but in meeting all facets of our responsibilities, we seek the greater good for all people of our state. Justice FITZGERALD joins this Court when the judiciary at times comes under attack but more often, it is a time when the people of this country and our state, as individuals or as groups of individuals, turn to the courts as a source for redress of grievances. There continues to be, as a year ago, every indication that more citizens and more groups of citizens will test the laws in the courts when they consider the laws unjust, and citizens will continue to challenge governmental action, or inaction in the courts, and this Court will respond, as it must, to preserve the people’s constitutional rights, to relieve their grievances when it is within the Court’s authority to do so.

Justice FITZGERALD joins the Court when the Michigan court system is on the threshold of an era of administrative excellence. With the support of the legislative and executive branches of government, we believe that more than two years of effort is about to culminate in initial legislation which will assure state financing of the entire court system. When this is achieved in this session of the legislature, Michigan’s court system will lead the country in equitable, efficient administration of justice. When this is achieved, we will have fulfilled the objection endorsed by the people of Michigan in the 1963 Constitution–a mandate of “one court of justice” administered equally throughout the state.

Today we reaffirm our commitment to this goal. We must not fail, for to do so, would be to fail the people of Michigan. To fail could consign our court system to an endless future of backlogs, inefficiencies, inequalities of justice throughout the state, and a continuing unbearable financial burden on local governing units. This must end.

So, today, we welcome Justice FITZGERALD as a colleague on the Bench in matters of law. We also welcome him to our exciting task of making Michigan’s court system a model for change, when change is imperative if the people are to be served and justice is to be done. It is a real pleasure for me to have this opportunity to welcome you to the Michigan Supreme Court. We know that you will serve the people of this state well.

Now I am told that Judge HOLBROOK from the Court of Appeals is at the back of the room and at this point I would like to recognize Judge HOLBROOK.

The Court will now be in recess except that we are asking the Justices of the Court to remain in position for a few moments for the taking of a picture. The rest are free to go.